Weldon: Clinton Official Ignored Program
Rep. Curt Weldon blames intelligence failures, not the Bush or Clinton administrations for not stopping the Sept. 11 attacks.
Thursday, May 23, 2002

WASHINGTON — An experimental computer program designed to analyze intelligence gave U.S. Special Forces a mission recommendation in 2000 that some say could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks.

The U.S. Military Special Forces Command at McDill Airforce Base came up with a chart of Al Qaeda's entire international network in the period prior to the November 2000 election, but the recommendation, which reached the desk of Clinton Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Hugh Shelton was never implemented, according to eight-term Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

"One year before 9/11 ... the capability that Special Forces built actually identified to us the network of Al Qaeda, and they went beyond that and gave us recommendations where we could take out five cells to eliminate their capability," Weldon said on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday night.

Weldon said that he went public with the information to silence Democratic criticism of the Bush administration, but not to blame former President Bill Clinton.

The debate over intelligence failures heated up in the last week after it was revealed that an FBI agent had sent a memo in July 2001 warning that Middle Eastern men with ties to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network were training at flight schools.

The memo, it was revealed, was ignored by higher-ups in the bureau, who claimed that they were too overwhelmed with the U.S.S. Cole bombing and other investigations to conduct a search of all U.S. flight schools.

The debate, however, took a political turn last week, with some members calling for the creation of an independent commission to investigate whether the Bush administration failed to act on warnings. Already, a joint House-Senate intelligence panel is investigating intelligence failures within the law enforcement agencies.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have said that an independent commission, composed of experts who have an understanding of intelligence matters, would be able to take a more objective look at the U.S. intelligence community, and perhaps feel free to propose more radical changes.

Opponents of the commission say that adding a new bureaucracy will only tie up intelligence officials who must run the war on terrorism while already answering to the congressional investigation.

Weldon said that instead of trying to put blame on the administration, more needs to be done to investigate the failings by the CIA and FBI to share information and see obvious clues.

The agencies have tried to respond to the criticism. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Justice Department has issued new guidelines on handling investigations, and both the CIA and FBI have redirected their sources to concentrate on international terrorism.

On Wednesday, the CIA named Winston P. Wiley, the deputy director of intelligence, as the new associate director for central intelligence for Homeland Security. He will take up that role, which is designed to communicate intelligence on terrorist threats to the Office of Homeland Security, on May 28.

Intelligence experts also shot back Wednesday that Congress is in part to blame for the intelligence failings because of its hard-hitting insistence that the FBI investigate the "flavor of the week."

"Ducking child welfare (payments), parental kidnappings, pornography on the Internet, whatever the flavor of the week was," the FBI was ordered to investigate, said former agent Clint Van Zandt. "And in the background, always brewing over the mountain — you could see smoke, no pictures — was international terrorism."

"It goes back to the very heart of the political leadership, goes back over the previous administration as well," said John Martin, a former FBI counterterrorist specialist and retired chief of internal security at the Justice Department, who added that even after the World Trade Center terrorist bombing in 1993, some top officials wanted the FBI to focus on abortion-clinic violence, street crime and the like.

"We were not preparing for this kind of attack," he said.

Weldon said that even if the intelligence community was absorbed with other issues, it missed at least one public and maddeningly obvious clue that until now had gone unnoticed.

"In August of 2000, an Al Qaeda member had been interviewed by an Italian newspaper, and (it was) reported that Al Qaeda was training kamikaze pilots. The intelligence community and enforcement agencies don't read open-source information," he said.

In truth, though, the CIA does study foreign press, but before Sept. 11 made little use of computers to collect and analyze classified and unclassified information together, which is what Special Forces began doing in 1997, enabling them to get a read-out on the terror cells.

Congress has passed legislation since the mid-1990s to compel the CIA to improve its computer gathering and analysis of intelligence, but little has been done, which adds to Weldon's criticism of the intelligence services.

"We knew what should have been done, we knew what we could have done, and we didn't do it," Weldon said.

Fox News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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